Permission Is About Your Relationship

My ClickZ colleague Paul Soltoff wrote last week about the dreaded issue of spam. Thanks, Paul, for reminding us of the importance of developing a healthy, responsive, and, most importantly, permission-based list.

His ideas about permission and data were, of course, great, so I thought I’d follow up by talking about the other side of that permission coin — your content and how it should reflect email marketing best practices. As Paul said, we need to raise the bar on permission and take the high road. It can make or break you when your medium of choice is email, which is one thing that makes email unique in the world of marketing media.

With that in mind, I’d like to reinforce two basic points:

  • Remind people how they came to be on your list.

  • Give them contact options in addition to your standard opt-out.

Remind Them

In every email you send, remind recipients of your relationship to them and why they’re receiving the message. I feel very strongly (and I realize not everyone fully agrees with this concept) that when you send your mail, you need to remind recipients how they came to be on your list. Legitimate and wanted mail gets read.

Use a simple statement — either as the introduction at the top or as part of your remove language. Even desirable content or offers are suspect if the recipients cannot connect the email message to their relationship with the sender.

Permission to Send Partners’ Messages?

The permission statement in your messages becomes of paramount importance in your partner mail, for somewhat obvious reasons. If you are sending partner mail and are not letting the recipient know why she is receiving it, you are risking losing that customer or reader. The very best practice here is to tell recipients directly. ClickZ does this by saying:

This is a mailing delivered by PostMasterDirect. You have subscribed to receive this information at To unsubscribe…

Another good example is DMNews (there are many others, but this stands out because of the copy it uses). It tells me right at the top of the message that it is a partner message based on “my choice” to receive periodic partner messages.

This also brings up a side note. If you are sending partner messages, you are somewhat shooting yourself (more importantly, your list) in the foot if you don’t allow the recipient to opt out of these messages while still receiving the content he desires. If you cannot offer that type of distinction or permission options, you should be very (dare I say extremely?) cautious about straying from sending them specifically what they signed up to receive. The introductory statement that DMNews uses ends with a link to change my preferences if I no longer want the partner announcements. It also reassures me that that my subscription will not be affected.

Make certain if you are giving people email preference options, you are able to support storing that information in your database. It seems to go without saying, but make sure you are able to retrieve a list or segment based on that information.

If you cannot manage preferences, you should only send the type of content you agreed to send when the recipient provided you with her address. One solution is to have one list for your newsletter and another for partner email. This will hopefully reduce the incidence of people receiving unwanted mail and unsubscribing.

Opt-Out Options

Ultimately, it’s all about comfort and trust these days. I have many conversations with friends and family about email, and I especially enjoy probing about spam. Most recipients I talk with (in most cases professionals receiving business-to-business as well as business-to-consumer email) are still very confused about what to do when they receive unsolicited email. It’s even more bewildering when they suddenly get mail that uses foul language or talks in detail about sexual behavior.

Most people still seem to feel that any response to an unsolicited email message only validates there is a live person on the receiving end. Therefore, they think trashing the mail is the best thing to do.

My suggestion to you, as a marketer, is to be very clear about what people should do to be removed from the list. If you do not want to provide them with links other than to your offer, make sure you put your Web address in your messages — even if it is static text in an HTML message. Whenever possible, give them a way to reach you outside of email. This will reinforce your validity as a company and, again, provide them with options. It will give them more confidence that you will honor their request.

This additional contact information becomes critical if (heaven forbid) you have a problem with your remove link, an error with your remove reply address, server hiccups, and so on.

Lastly, Your Privacy Policy

Whenever possible, include a link to your privacy policy. It’s usually best positioned near the other permission-related information. Again, this will do wonders for instilling the sense that the recipient is receiving mail from a legitimate source.

If you knew (with certainty) which of your USPS mail recipients were literally sorting mail over the garbage can and immediately trashing your pieces, wouldn’t you remove them from the list? Or at least offer to remove them from the list? Consider creating rules for contacting recipients (or including this practice as a part of your regular communications) when you see they are not opening or responding to your email. Again, it’s a relationship. If you are aware they are no longer engaged, do you really want to keep sending mail that is only being deleted? Or worse, starting to irritate that recipient and possibly damaging your reputation or brand?

Happy summer all! Have a great week!

Jackie G.

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